The Dragon Ride: Going Big (and then going home) —by @bendihossan

Last year I discovered the L’étape Wales, AKA: The Dragon Ride, and decided I would like to ride it. It was too short notice at the time to take part so I made sure to mark it in the calendar for 2018 so I wouldn’t miss out. There’s an abundance of routes to choose from and I’d decided that the 100km or 153km routes would be my options for a last real “big” ride before the Velothon and a good tester to see how I was fairing. The event is a month before the Velothon so there’s plenty of time … Continue reading The Dragon Ride: Going Big (and then going home) —by @bendihossan

Guest Post: 2017 Sportives: my cycling year so far –by @eggynewydd

This year I set myself a challenge to ride as many cycling events as I could. When attempting to compare them, it’s a fairly subjective business once you’ve gone beyond the cold hard Strava stats. In the end I settled on the following criteria: 1 – Ambience Riding companions Scenery Friendliness of fellow riders and spectators 2 – Climbs Gradients Distances Overall altitude gains 3 – Course conditions Road surfaces Safety Weather 4 – Support Organisation Marshalling Feed stations and other rest stops/hubs Mechanical / medical assistance 5 – Suffering Difficulty Pain Exhaustion 6 – Performance How I think I … Continue reading Guest Post: 2017 Sportives: my cycling year so far –by @eggynewydd

Guest Post! From unloved fixie to pretty & practical porteur –by @bendihossan

Before we dive in, I’d like to set the scene to where I was a couple of years ago and how I came to fall in love with riding and roaming around Cardiff By Bike – see what I did there? 😉

A few years ago I was returning to riding after nearly a decade off bikes, for various reasons and rediscovering why I spent so much of my childhood on two wheels. I’d been riding a road bike for little over a year for both the odd adventure up a hill to get fitter and my daily commute of a couple of miles. However, the realisation was setting in that really I needed a separate bike for commuting on.

Maintaining a “one bike does it all” was taking its toll on my entry-level road bike, but getting a hybrid didn’t really appeal to me and I fancied something different to the mountain bikes I’d spent my childhood on. Talking to a colleague and friend one afternoon he said “I’ve got a singlespeed I’m not using, if you fancy borrowing/buying it?”. I thought “Aye, go on ‘en. I’ve not tried riding fixed before!” A quick Google seemed to confirm my assumption that the lack of a front & rear derailleur and corresponding cables meant less maintenance: the perfect winter/commuter bike I thought.

Forewarned by my buddy that the bike needed a bit of tender loving care I started reading and watching videos on basic bike maintenance and started a building ideas in my head about not just how I could improve the bike’s ride but also customise it and “make it mine”. The bike has a flip/flop hub, a freewheel on one side, a fixed gear on the other, so I could pick & choose between riding singlespeed or fixed. It didn’t take long too long to get used to riding fixed and after a few days commuting a short distance into work I was pretty comfortable with it. I even started track standing at the traffic lights!

After a few months commuting in this configuration I’d started to get an idea of just where that aforementioned TLC needed to be spent. The brakes worked, but they weren’t great. I replaced the pads, rear caliper and cables in one go and that made a world of difference and was well within my abilities, even for my lowly mechanical ‘skillz’. The wheels turned but didn’t really feel free when they did so. After watching GCN’s Maintenance Monday videos for a while I felt like having a go at re-greasing the wheel hub bearings. A few dirty finger tips later and I’d managed that without losing any ball bearings. The next morning’s ride was a lot more fluent and took less effort to turn the cranks. Success!

02 - Team Red Bar Tape
#TeamRedBarTape –by Steffan Harries

With the weather getting better into spring I also decided to replace the worn bar tape with something more colourful. “Why not match that lovely red on the wheels?” I thought. I went for Fizik Microtex stuff as it’s basically weatherproof, but I’ve heard Lizardskin’s bar tape is very similar too.

I still had more to do though. I often found myself going to the shops to pick a few odds & ends up on the way home and whilst most of the time I could wiggle packages and boxes into my work bag it was rarely comfortable and left me longing for a better way of getting things from A to B. I knew cargo bikes existed but in no way could I justify the price; trailers looked fiddly to me; and panniers to me were just another awkward bag to struggle with.

I did a bit of research and eventually discovered a French word: porteur, which can be an adjective describing the act of carrying or a noun meaning “the one who carries”. I found this word on an interesting blog post, The Porteurs of Paris, and in a simplified summary these were bike lovers who raced their machines delivering the news hot from the presses straight to newsstands all over Paris. They did it like this:

Many porteurs were amateur or semi-professional racers who used their jobs for training, so it was natural to organize a race of the porteurs every year. The course started in the newspaper quarter of Paris, went around the Boulevards Extérieurs before climbing the hill of Montmartre. Riders had to carry 15 kg (33 lb) of newspapers. At the half-way point, they had to exchange their load for another pack of newspapers. Much of the course went over cobblestones, and not all were as smooth as the ones in the photo above.

Source: The Porteurs of Paris | Off The Beaten Path

I saw these images and I loved them. I loved the raw simplicity and perfect mix of form and function. The riders can get aero, ride fast, and get rewarded for delivering the news fast by bike. There are more details of how these porteurs did their jobs, and races, in the post linked to above and I definitely recommend checking it out.

So I started looking for a porteur bike rack. Turns out this was quite hard! This niche doesn’t have many options and those I did find were either extortionate hipster-level expensive or looked flimsy enough to fold under load. Eventually I found a company called Basil who make exactly what I was looking for in two options: with and without “borders”. With borders means it comes with walls, like a basket and without is, er, without ‘em.

04 - This is exactly what I needed
This is exactly what I needed! –by Steffan Harries

I’d spent some time searching for and ogling at old porteur bikes online and saw that many were small wooden crates to them so I picked a few up from a local home store, spray painted them red (I really like the colour red by the way) and grabbed some bungee cord. Lush. I had exactly what I needed. With two big red crates and tidy size flat porteur rack on the front I could use whichever box suited my needs on any given day. I started doing my weekly shop by bike and found I could get about a 1 and a half basket’s load in without too much effort.

I’m not the only one who has adopted this idea however. On Wood Street recently I saw a nice retro looking old steel frame bike with a porteur rack and old wooden crate on the front. A few days later I saw it again on Queen street. Whomever you are, my fellow porteur: chapeau!

05 - Arriving home after a quick food shop
Arriving home after a quick food shop –by Steffan Harries

I still found on the odd occasion where I was shopping for a trolley load of things, or where I picked up packages from the sorting office of awkward sizes, that I could do better. Still being pannier-averse I looked at other options for mounting something to the back of the bike. I found Topeak make a seatpost mounted flat rack would extend over the rear wheel and hold a reasonable load. So I ordered one and it does exactly as it says on the tin. The bonus is that has a mount for a rear light and rubber straps for helping mount things to it. Perfect!

06 - After a trip to the sorting office
After a trip to the sorting office –by Steffan Harries

I now do 99% of my shopping like this. I pop the smaller crate on the front rack with the larger one on the rear seatpost mounted rack and ride down the Taff Trail to the shops and home again. A couple of more recent additions are some clip on/off mudguards and a more comfortable saddle. I can even now say that I actually look forward going food shopping! I get a few quizzical looks when people see me riding in full utilitarian setup but most people smile and admire the continental approach to transport. The nice thing is that I can scale things up or down depending on my needs on any particular day. When commuting I ride with the front rack on, but no crates, and keep some straps with me just in case I do end up grabbing something I need to attach to the front.

The other morning I was passed on Llandaff Bridge by a roadie on a flash carbon frame and deep section wheels who commented “Nice bike mate, good way to get about!”

07 - One big weekly shop with room to spare
One big weekly shop, with room to spare –by Steffan Harries

Continue reading “Guest Post! From unloved fixie to pretty & practical porteur –by @bendihossan”

Guest Post: Helmet cam footage wanted for a BBC feature –by @stevecastle

Calling all helmet cam users! I have a request for you… When I am not out riding my bike, I work as a TV sound engineer. I was recently contacted by a producer at BBC Wales whom I have worked with on numerous occasions asking if I or any of the other guys I work with (who also ride) had any helmet cam footage that could be used for an upcoming BBC Wales program. Since none of us usually use a camera on our rides I offered to contact the wider cycling network of Cardiff by hijacking a spot on … Continue reading Guest Post: Helmet cam footage wanted for a BBC feature –by @stevecastle

Guest Post: Spanish Practices –by Chris Roberts

Some interesting things are happening with cycling in Valencia, Spain’s third largest city.  Can we learn from them?

Imagine a city where every week you come across a new stretch of cycle infrastructure – and not just red paint but quality segregated bike lanes – well that’s Valencia at the moment.

Anillo Ciclista

I moved here with my bike last September and soon became aware of plans to create an “Anillo Ciclista” (Anell Ciclista in Valenciano), a Cycling Ring around the inner city centre.  I’m used to hearing about plans for new cycle routes that will happen at some point in the future but this time I saw the construction work start and the entire route completed within five months.  The Ring is almost entirely on road but separated from traffic by rows of concrete bumps (armadillos) and in many places also by parking spaces.  It’s 2.5 metres wide allowing comfortable two-way riding and has been delivered as a complete 4.7 km circuit  of the city in one project, not 500 metres of cycle lane with a year-long wait before it connects to anything else.

Some of Valencia’s new infrastructure

Valencia has lots of potential for cycling:  it’s flat, sunny and quite compact.  It also suffers greatly from traffic congestion and increasing worries about air quality.  Much of the existing provision of cycling routes is on space stolen from pedestrians, there is also an impressive green route in the old river bed which forms a semicircle around the north and east of the city (the river was diverted after a catastrophic flood in the 1950s).  The routes seem to have been primarily a concession to fitness cycling, they are very popular with leisure cyclists, but they don’t really get you anywhere. .

The city elections in 2015 saw the removal of the right of centre party that had been in power for twenty-four years and the arrival of a left/green/regionalist alliance.  The new regime in the council is now clearly promoting cycling as a means of transport.  The Ring has made a powerful statement that the project is about displacing cars by taking its space from them.  There is also a strong message in the roads at the side of the Ring being one way whilst cyclists can travel in both directions.  It is difficult to overstate just how radical a change this is. Valencia has a very strong car culture and has had for some time. One part of the cycle Ring takes out one of the six lanes of traffic that ran through the heart of the city dividing the central square from the railway station. Simply crossing the road here was an ordeal that demonstrated that cars came before people.

Whilst the construction of the route was quick it first emerged as a concept twenty-three years ago.  Outline plans were finally drawn up by the previous city council but it was the arrival of the new coalition run council and in particular the new Sustainable Mobility lead member Giuseppe Grezzi that really started to make things happen.  They dramatically improved the plans, widening the whole Ring to 2.5 metres and made it two-way.  They also made it happen.  Seeing the construction work progress was amazing and not without its problems.  Some of the most car congested streets in the city were suddenly partially blocked to provide space for bikes.  This did not go without protest from drivers and one of the two regional newspapers laid into the council and, in particular, Grezzi for the “chaos” that was being caused.  A spoof Twitter account  @las_colonias ran regular stories of how the Ring was responsible for all the ills of modern man!  Of course any traffic jams in the city centre will now be blamed on the one lane devoted to cycles, not the three lanes of cars in the jam.

Giuseppe Grezzi (left) and the City Mayor, Joan Ribo, one of the council’s electric bikes at the launch of the cycling Ring. They’re both keen cyclists.

There are issues with the Ring mainly arising from the access points to buildings, underground car parks and side streets, but if you are going to retrofit a cycling circuit to an existing city road system such problems are pretty much inevitable. Valencia also suffers from a lack of clear design guidance for cycle infrastructure.

Interestingly, the local cycling campaign, València en Bici, has taken a very politically savvy approach and rather than launching a full-blooded attack on the council for using the wrong shade of white for the road markings, it has provided support for Grezzi, particularly when he came under attack in the press and social media.  That of course does not mean that they will not or should not continue to press for further improvements and changes in the light of experience from the use of the Ring.

The extent to which the Ring will be used is of course the acid test for the whole project and whilst the early indications are positive, it is still too soon to tell.  The council is certainly putting some effort into promoting the new route, something that is all too often absent following the construction of a new cycle route.

It’s also making important connections, the Ring has the potential to work well with two other Valencian sustainable transport initiatives, good public transport and a successful municipal bike hire system.  This means that people can travel into the city centre by metro, bus or train and use the Ring to get around the city on a hired Valenbici.

One of the billboards advertising the new route strategically placed next to a bike hire point.

So does this have any relevance to Cardiff?  Well I think there are some points that are useful for any cycle campaign.  Firstly the importance of political will.  Having politicians in key roles who really ‘get’ cycling has been key to Valencia’s success.  Equally, having a well-developed plan in place that the politicians can implement is vital.  Politicians inevitably have a limited lifespan and if, when you finally have some that are committed to cycling, they need to spend their time designing a plan rather than implementing it you could find another change of regime happens before any useful infrastructure is in place.  See the excellent blog posts elsewhere on this site for information on how you can get involved in developing a plan for Cardiff.  Having comprehensive design guidance in place is also important.

The role of cycling campaigners is crucial.  València en Bici have spent many years working on a practical plan and campaigning for it.  They have engaged positively with politicians and successfully focussed on the big picture rather than being bogged down in criticising detail (at least in public).

The other key message from Valencia is that complete routes can be delivered as one project.  The council took a lot of flak building the route but at least it is now being used; all too often infrastructure is delivered piecemeal in unusable chunks giving rise to accusations that cycle lanes are a waste of money because nobody uses them.

For me the most impressive thing is that the work hasn’t stopped with the construction of the Ring.  One week after the inauguration of the Ring, the council completed the 1.6 km route that connects Benimaclet, my part of the city, to the central Ring.  I now have a segregated cycle route from practically outside my flat into and around the city centre and all delivered in less than six months.   The sun, palm trees and the alternative route to the shores of the Mediterranean are just a bonus!

Continue reading “Guest Post: Spanish Practices –by Chris Roberts”

Guest Post: Active Travel Conference 2017 –by @beicwrtaff

Last Thursday I found myself at the Active Travel Conference held here in Cardiff. According to the blurb the conference would “equip practitioners who are involved in the implementation of the Active Travel Act with best practice tools and knowledge. It will also connect professionals in other sectors who have shared aims or where there are co-benefits, by offering a mix of practical and strong evidence focus.” Sounds good – and as bonus there was lunch and top quality Welshcakes on offer too – so it was too good an opportunity to pass by.

If you’ve been to conferences before – in whatever sector you’re involved in you’ll probably be familiar with the drill – a series of presentations at the beginning and then everyone splits up into smaller groups for workshops to look in a bit more detail at some of the main issues. The conference was organised by Wales Government although proceedings on the day were chaired by Anne Adams-King from Welsh Cycling. I thought this was an excellent thing to see. Welsh Cycling are principally associated with sports cycling in many Welsh cyclists minds, yet here was their CEO at the forefront of the Wales Active Travel conference.

Rebecca Evans AM gave a keynote address. Rebecca is the Deputy Minister for Social Services and Public Health and has “Promotion of walking and cycling, including the Active Travel (Wales) Act” is within her ministerial portfolio. Her address was general, positive and said nice things. She mentioned the importance of infrastructure and active travel’s ability to improve the environment and people’s health. At the end she took some questions from the floor, with one question along the lines of “Is the Government serious enough about this stuff to reallocate road space from cars to walking/cycling?” For me that one question gets right to the heart of this topic, and is crucial to how we want our communities to function. Unfortunately I thought her answer revolving around “local consultations” was somewhat wooly and unconvincing.

The Presentations

The 1st presentation was Prof Paul Kelly who spoke about making an economic case for walking & cycling. Paul is an engaging speaker and he covered a lot of ground – looking at Edinburgh’s 20mph Zone and the World Health Organisation’s HEAT tool (Health Economic Assessment Tool) to look at benefits to populations of increased levels of physical activity, as part of a strategy for building an economic case to increase activity levels. The thing that stood out for me from Prof Kelly’s piece though was the way he contrasted the pleasing, positive way that advertising delivers messages compared with the dry, often negative language of academia – oh and one other thing too….the £650m a year cost that physical inactivity imposes on the economy of Wales.

Next up was a Public Health Wales double act – Huw Brunt and Dr Sarah Jones. Huw is a self-confessed air quality geek with a hint of Justin Trudeau about him; and he expertly took the audience through a chunk of stats relating to atmospheric pollution in Wales. With most of that pollution coming from vehicle exhaust pipes he checked off the consequences of that pollution on the Welsh population. Whilst the earlier presentation from Prof Kelly had focused on the financial side of things, Huw zeroed in on the estimated 300-500 deaths in Wales every year that could attributed to air pollution. Rather soberingly he highlighted that the most deprived parts of Wales were the ones that saw the worst effects of poor air quality. Dr Sarah Jones then spoke about road traffic injuries. Dr Jones was unequivocal about reduction of speed limits being a key part of any strategy to reduce traffic injuries and deaths. She highlighted the absurdity of short sections of 20mph limits in parts of communities and the forest of signs and the difficulty for drivers in trying to work out the limits. Taken as a whole she suggested strongly that Wales should be looking as a whole to shift to a default 20mph within communities, ultimately resulting in significant reductions in traumatic deaths and injuries, as well as cost savings.

Next speaker was Adrian Lord from Phil Jones Associates (the company responsible for much of the stuff in the Active Travel Guidance). Adrian’s piece was for the infrastructure geeks in the audience (always a few) and he looked at how infrastructure best practice had evolved since the original Wales AT guidance had been written, highlighting new practices with some case studies.

Lunch allowed some time for networking. Present at the conference, as you would expect, were many organisations from around Wales that represented people who walk and cycle (with a couple from over the bridges too), as well as from many of the Welsh local authorities; a smattering of engineering companies (eg Capita, Arup) who will have to design and build stuff; NRW and Wales Government. I think it was Kevin from Pedal Power though who pointed out that these people were all “experts”, there was a lack of representation from the people who don’t yet cycle (or walk).

The Workshops

There were a series of workshops after lunch – two involved conducting walking and cycling audits of the nearby Cardiff streets, whilst other workshops looked at the role of Public Services Boards (FGEW), refreshing the AT Design Guidance; and Active Travel in rural communities. I settled for the Design Guidance workshop and the Rural communities workshops. Adrian from PJA led the workshop and we looked at ideas for future updates to the AT Guidance. Standout points for me were comments about highways engineers on being challenged about their designs conflicting with the guidance responding with the line “but its only guidance – and not mandatory”. The workshop wandered off a bit talking about consultations and the difficulty in getting people to engage in the topic. There was some further discussion on a couple of examples, and then time to move on. I threw in a few comments about putting a glossary near the beginning as some of the terms/acronyms are a bit baffling to the general user, and maybe even a “lite” version which could be used by interested lay public (rather than planning/engineering pros) when looking at public consultation planning documents.

The Rural Communities workshop was led by Ryland and Elena from Sustrans. The main part of it was looking at a couple of prospective routes between 2 towns and deciding which was best. Choices were a less direct but more scenic route through a nature reserve, or a more direct route through built up area/main roads. Both groups went for direct route approach (with a little bit of variation as to the exact course). I think this was supposed to highlight a dilemma in route planning as to whether or not to create routes which may appeal to tourists, or to people trying to get about making everyday trips. We also covered a bit on eBikes (the only real mention of eBikes throughout the whole day) and perceived barriers to cycling in rural areas.

Thoughts…

As for my impressions of the day as a whole – for a first timer at this sorts of thing it was an interesting event. It was nice to see the great and the good in the same room, and the presentations during the morning, especially from Public Health Wales were excellent. However it was a bit of an echo chamber – when Dr Jones mentioned default 20mph a murmur of unanimous approval went around the room, I would be surprised if there were many other events in Wales where a similar reaction would be encountered, indeed Dr Jones made the same point. A few things stood out for me as being very important, but largely unaddressed –although there were a few hints from time to time. Money – there was plenty of talk about the money saved, but almost no discussion of where the money comes to invest in Active Travel…and that’s in a nation which at the moment can find £1 Billion for a motorway extension. Yet despite high quality cycling schemes delivering a far greater Return on Investment we are scrabbling for crumbs from the table.

Public Health Wales gave massive amounts of evidence as to why a switch to more Active Travel needs to happen, and Prof Kelly showed the significant financial benefits to Wales that would result. Active Travel means more people walking and cycling, but that also means fewer people driving, or driving less often. Now providing better infrastructure that enables people to do the former in a quick, convenient and safe fashion is a big part of delivering this, but as the Dutch have demonstrated it needs to go hand in hand with making travel by private car for short trips in towns and cities less quick and less convenient too. That does mean road space reallocation to more efficient travel methods; modal filtering that means no through roads for cars yet allows people walking and cycling to flow through them unhindered; and ultimately signalling that towns and cities are places for people rather than high volumes of cars. There is mention in the guidance of some schemes, but throughout the day there wasn’t much attention paid to restricting car use.

Ultimately if we are to become an Active Travel nation in Wales we need a bit of stick as well as bit of carrot, and both of those need money and strong political leadership at national and local levels. At the next Active Travel conference it perhaps be an idea to see these topics addressed more.

Did any other Cardiff By Bike readers attend this? If so what were your impressions?

Continue reading “Guest Post: Active Travel Conference 2017 –by @beicwrtaff”

Guest Post: Not another 100 Climbs – by @GarethEnticott

I have a confession. I don’t like the series of 100 Greatest Climbs books, particularly the new Wales book. Its nothing personal, but it’s a couple of things. Increasingly I don’t like the fetishisation of the climb. It might work in the Alps where riding up the Galibier might take most of your day, but in south Wales where the climbs are 1-3km, a ride isn’t about one climb, it’s about the route, or where you are going to. That’s what makes cycling interesting. And then there’s some of the choices, and omissions. Take the road to Penrhys. Seriously, one … Continue reading Guest Post: Not another 100 Climbs – by @GarethEnticott

Guest Post: Wheel Women's First Ride – by Lusi Lawler

Get on your bikes and ride! On Saturday 14th January 25 women and girls took to Cardiff on two wheels. The ride set off from The Bike Shed in Pontcanna and four Breeze Champions lead the group on a 11 mile loop to Cardiff Bay; not forgetting the obligatory coffee stop at Coffi Co! The ride marked the beginning of the female cycling community, Wheel Women. This is a partnership between Sport Cardiff’s Girls Together, Welsh Cycling and The Bike Shed which will provide regular organised rides in Cardiff. Wheel Women rides will be delivered by trained Breeze Champions and … Continue reading Guest Post: Wheel Women's First Ride – by Lusi Lawler